Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven,
that one of these little ones should perish.—Matt. xviii., 14.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed
to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn
among many brethren over whom he did predestinate,
them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified:
and whom he justified, them he also glorified.—Rom. viii., 29, 30.
THE two declarations before us appear to be contradictory. The appearance has been supposed to exist by a great number of persons who seem to have mistaken the character of the Divine Being. They think that the teaching of the apostle Paul in the words, Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, was that a peculiar few, as compared with the whole number of the human race, were destined in the sight of God to hear the gospel, become angels, and be everlastingly happy. Then he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified. The idea that there had been set aside a peculiar few, a certain number, who were thus supposed to have been pre-arranged for by the Divine Being; while all the rest were passed over, and that they would certainly go to heaven, is certainly not in harmony with the fundamental teaching of Scripture. Our Divine Lord, and He was God manifest in the flesh, assures us in the first text that every child created by our Heavenly Father is created for eternal happiness. It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Allow me to direct your attention, first, to the important points that are unveiled to us in the first declaration.
We will then endeavor to understand what the Apostle means, and see if, when it is lightly considered, it does not accord with the teaching of our Lord.
If we had to consider the form of a tree, especially if it happened to be one of the great Banyan trees of Asia, and instead of going right to the central trunk, and then from that central trunk surveying the branches, and thus getting a command of the whole, we went peeping in here and peeping in there, but never going right to the main stem and taking our stand there, so as to command the central view we should never understand the tree; we should never know its real form.
Now, it is exactly so with sound views on all great subjects. If we seize the strong, and central truths, and then from these look at all the rest, we shall find all will take their proper places, and we shall comprehend a beautiful whole. In the matter before us, the great central principle is the eternal purpose and will of God, and it is placed before us here and elsewhere in the most striking and emphatic manner: It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. It was a strange and terrible phase of human infatuation that set in with Augustine, and was largely spread by Calvin, in which, by strange, cold, hard metaphysics, men concluded that Christian theology seemed especially to point to the necessity of never letting little children, especially if unbaptized, go to heaven. Synod after synod, council after council, almost all the great meetings of the Church in those times endorsed these views about little children. Now, as we read Church history we wonder what they were about. We look upon little children–those beautiful creatures of the Eternal, the sweet glorious images of Himself, the very embodiment of His love and wisdom,–and are delighted as we gaze on such miracles of wondrous perfection and beauty. Each little child is itself a universe in miniature! The Divine Being has prepared its heart and mind for the reception of His love and wisdom in the most astonishing manner. There is nothing so beautiful on earth as a little child. Take even its very framework; it consists of more than four hundred bones, so beautifully fashioned, so exactly constructed that you cannot put one in the place of another throughout the whole framework.
No architect, no mechanic, no human shall of any kind can really solve the same problems that are solved in relation even to one little human being. Take the vertebral column; two things are realized there which are never so perfectly accomplished in any human work. It is for its weight, the firmest of all things and it is the most flexible of all things. The perfections of a pillar and a chain in the most admirable manner are found in the human vertebral column of every healthy child. And then it is so wondrously constructed, that the most finely organized matter is arranged for to go down the center, to carry life from the brain to every part of the whole body. There are also little apertures made for the nerves, all fall of life, to come out where they are wanted, and to give light to the eyes, hearing to the ears, taste to the tongue, smell to the nose, and sensation to every part of the body. The power of moving, the power of perceiving, and the power of receiving all the glorious blessings that the Almighty imparts through the beautiful universe, are all provided for in the central column. And this is as nothing. In the system of the little child there is the most perfect arrangement for moistening every part, for removing the redundant material, for creating oil needed for giving suppleness to all the joints. There is the most remarkable ramification of parts for doing what so human chemistry can do, but which the Divine chemistry accomplishes in every child. Where is the chemistry that can turn bread and water into flesh and bone, into brain, into eyes, and ears, into nervous matter, into little feet and hands, and arms? Why, all the chemists in the world cannot make a single hair. Crystallizations can be performed in dead matter, but none of the living crystallizations that take place in the human form can be effected elsewhere than in that wondrous frame. Who then that looks upon this body, even the threshold of the immortal being, which God has given to every one of us, and then remembers that this is but the house that man has given him to live in, and that within this there is the immortal man possessed of higher faculties and grander powers, can fail to see that each child is the object of God’s love? Man call imitate God and walk with Him. He has talents, powers, and faculties by which he can measure suns, and stars, and worlds; and go with the Most High, as it were, through the universe, and say My Father made them all.
Well, then, can any man with manly thought and manly heart do otherwise than look upon the loving eye of a young immortal, and say, Oh certainly, it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
But the same lesson is given us all through the Scriptures; in the Old Testament as in the New, in the gospels as in the apostolic writings. These are some few appearances of different teaching, but they only require us to get, as it were, to the center of things, and then look at the various branches to see that it is the sublime purpose of God’s eternal will, that every child should become happy on earth, and then be happy in heaven. If we turn to the Old Testament what magnificent declarations are there of this glorious purpose! Take, for instance, Deut. xxx., 14, 15, But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that then mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this clay life and death, and good and evil; and then the Divine Mercy goes on to say, I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days. Divine Mercy requires us to choose life, or love, for that is what life means in the Divine Word, heavenly love; because it is only by choosing this that it becomes our own; that we can live upon it, that it becomes wrought up into our spiritual being. Choose life. Life that is not chosen will not make us happy; if the Lord forces life upon us, we should be slaves in golden fetters; and, therefore, His will is that we should by choice lay hold of what is loving and good, that we should determine that we will live for heaven, strive for heaven, work for heaven. Choose life that then mayest live. And then acting from a freedom like His own, (for He is infinitely free, compelled by nothing to love but loving infinitely because goodness is good, because truth is true, because virtue is divinely excellent of itself.) He desires that we should imitate him: that we should choose life, that we may live the life of angels and be happy in doing good, for heaven is then within us.
Further on in the Sacred Word we read, The Lord is good to all, his tender mercies are over all his works.–Ps. cxliv., 1. Never suppose that the Divine Mercy is exhausted, never imagine that infinite tenderness comes to an end. Men or devils reject Him, He never ceases to care for them. He blesses the highest angel; He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good; and sendeth rain on the just and unjust. His Spirit retains its own merciful character, even down to the lowest hell.
The Divine Mercy extends to the infernals to rule them and to make their miseries less than they otherwise would be. It is not to punish, but to preserve and to moderate, that the Divine Being is present in the realms of darkness. Just an the authority of a merciful sovereign governs the hells upon earth, preventing them from being so utterly miserable as they otherwise would be, so the Divine Mercy extends to the lowest and the worst. His tender mercies are over all his works.
Such, then, is our God and Father. At this glorious season we commemorate the wondrous act of God becoming a man for us. And what did the angels proclaim when this strange but marvelously loving work was undertaken? I bring you glad tidings of great joy that shall be to all people, not glad tidings of great joy that shall be to this man or that man, to this nation or to that nation, but shall be to all people. Unto you is born in the city of David, a Savior, Christ the Lord; and then the heavenly host came and sang, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good-will towards men When the Lord Jesus was approaching the end of His ministry, He said, How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not.—Luke xiii., 33. I would and ye would not. Obstacles were not with Him, but with them. And He then ended His sublime work of redemption on the cross, as the same apostle declares in the second chapter of his epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus took our flesh that by the grace of God He might taste death for every man. For every man! Although a man might reject God’s goodness; although he might repel his own happiness and safety, although he might choose hatred, instead of love, falsehood instead of truth, vice instead of virtue, misery instead of bliss, yet even for that man the Lord Jesus died: for, He tasted death for every man.
And, then, showing all the sublime attributes and tenderness of the Godhead at work, the Apostle has add in his epistle to Timothy, This is good and acceptable to God our Savior, who will have every man to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. In the last chapter of the Bible, this glorious invitation is given, And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And lot him that heareth, say come. All heaven, all the Church, every individual man of the Church, is exhorted to ask men to come and he made happy, And whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely. This is the will of God, our Father and our Savior.
But I have stated that when our Lord says, This is the will of your Father who is in heaven, me may take it quite for granted that that is a correct expression, because He was Himself our Father who is in heaven; He is, now our Father who is in heaven. This is a circumstance that oftentimes has not been fairly learned from the Sacred Volume. There has not been an exact perception of the teaching of Holy Writ as to God manifested to us; Emmanuel, God with us. Our Father who is in heaven has been frequently thought to be an expression for a Father who reigns over the eternal world, distinct from the Son. But there is a nice fitness of expression everywhere in the Sacred Volume that should never be forgotten. When there is anything appended to a phrase, it is for a certain reason. Our Father who is in heaven. God in His own unmanifested nature is so far above all that is finite, that until He manifested Himself in Jesus Christ, He was the Father above the heavens, that is, in the inmost of all things, He was an unknown essence, such as our Lord speaks of when He says, Ye have neither heard the voice of the Father at any time nor seen his shape.–John v., 37. God, before the incarnation, manifested Himself through an angel, whom He filled with His presence at the time, and thus spoke to men. When Moses requested that he might see God, the law was given in Jehovah’s answer, thou canst not see my face and live. The infinite ardor of love, eternal love such as it is in its uncreated, unfinited essence; is the Father, the inmost of all things, but not yet manifested even in heaven. He humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven.
The essence of God is beyond all finite thought, but when the Divine Mercy descended to finite existence, and humanized Himself, He became to angels the Father in the heavens, and when He descended still lower and came upon earth He was then the Father in the world, and said, He that seeth Me hath seen the Father.–John xiv., 9. So little accustomed are many persons to think about God, and ancient creeds have tended so remarkably to narrow and confuse, instead of to open and expand the mind, that frequently when they speak of the Lord Jesus Christ being God manifested in the flesh, and God upon earth, it is concluded that God left heaven in order to come down upon earth. Many think of God as a finite person, and as though to be present here He would have to be absent everywhere else. But that is not the Divine idea of God. Am I a God at hand, the Lord says, and not a God afar off. Do not I fill heaven and earth. When the Lord appeared upon earth, He did not quit heaven. He is present now on earth although He is present with the angels, as the God whom they see and adore. He is present here, in this church, with all the sincerely minded. Wherever two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them. He comes to every heart, Behold I stand at the door and knock, He says, if any man will open the door I will come into him and sup with him, and he with me. But to come to that one man whom He is teaching, and inviting to open the door of his heart, He does not leave everybody else. He is presently manifestly in the Son of Heaven. He is present by His Holy Spirit in the heavens themselves. He can manifest Himself anywhere when He pleases, and wherever He manifests Himself there is all the majesty of the Godhead present; and therefore when it is said, Our Father who is in the heavens, and when we are asked to pray to our Father who is in the heavens, in the common prayer which the Lord taught to all, our Father who is in the heavens is the ford Jesus Christ. Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father.–Isaiah ix., 6. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Father who is in the heavens; the Father who is on earth; He is the only Father with whom we have to do.
I in them, the Lord says, and thou Father in me.
Well, then, when He says that It is not the will of our Father who is in the heavens that one of these little ones should perish, we say that we may well take it to be the very truth, for He was that very Father in the heavens, as well as the Father in the Son on earth. He is the very Father in the heavens now, and hence He says in another place, If ye shall ask anything in my name I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.–John xiv., 13. If ye shall ask anything in my name I will do it. When men pray devoutly and sincerely, Jesus hears and answers whether they know Him rightly or not. The Lord Jesus is the only Father there is in the heavens. All power is given unto me, He says, in heaven and on earth. If we come to the Being then who has the power and the will to help us, it is Jesus. Come unto me, He says, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Whosoever cometh unto me I will in so wise cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. He is the Infinite Lover of every soul of man. Such is the purport of our first text.
Well, then, what is the doctrine of the second part of these teachings? The Apostle says, For whom he did foreknow, them He also did predestinate. Allow me to suggest to every one who has not very deeply considered this passage, to read it carefully. The common way in which men went wrong in relation to this verse, was by really transposing its parts in their minds. The Apostle says, Whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate. But in the minds of the persons who thought there was some testimony in it: for a partial God, they really read it mentally, Whom he did predestinate, them he did foreknow, reversing the passage, as if God predestinated first and then knew that they would come to heaven, for He had settled it that they should. The passage, however, puts it the other way, Whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate.
If we take it just on the surface, simply as a merely natural man would do, without any further investigation, it would mean that everybody was to be saved. God, undoubtedly, foreknows every one; and if whom He did foreknow them He did predestinate, and whom He did predestinate were called, and they who mere called were justified, and they who were justified mere glorified, it would just mean that everybody would be saved, because everybody was foreknown by God. But that also is certainly not the meaning of the text. In the Scriptures, when used both by the Lord and by the Apostle, by the term knowing is meant to be IN SYMPATHY WITH FROM LOVE.
God is said to know those who are like Himself, and they are said to know Him.
Hence in the seventh of Matthew our Lord says to the wicked ones that still wished to go to heaven, I know you not, whence you are, depart from me ye workers of iniquity.–ver. 93. But the Lord was acquainted with them, and He knew all their circumstances, for of course He would not have known that they were workers of iniquity unless He had known all about them. We have the same meaning for the word knowing when we are speaking concerning human friends. The cold-hearted and selfish do not know the generous, loving, and the good. The coward does not know the brave man, the corrupt man does not know the virtuous and the pure. You often know the outside of a man; you know what he seems to be, but you feel that there is no community of heart and mind between you. You may live with a person for years, and yet may not know him, and he does not truly know you. He attributes perhaps a hundred things to you that are not true, because he has no sympathy with your nature, and therefore cannot come to know you. The apostle Paul plainly teaches this, when he says, He that loveth God knoweth God.–l Cor., viii. 12. Now, here you have the simple explanation of the whole passage–he that knows God loves God. The apostle John utters the same thing where he says, Whosoever knoweth God loveth. God, for God is love. And a man who does not love, a man that is not endeavoring to become more loving every day, does not know God. He walks about like a blind person, and supposes he knows something when he is altogether wrapt up in his own selfish thoughts, both respecting God and man. He has not yet got the knowing faculty developed in him, for that is really the loving faculty. Now, the Apostle is teaching that where a person is good, where he has a loving heart, and desires to be set right, he will sooner or later get the Gospel, and this will make him like unto the Lord Jesus.
Whom God did foreknow, that is, those who by love were in communion with God in the best way known unto them before the Gospel came to them, to them the Gospel was given. The Apostle says, in the verse immediately preceding, all things work together for good to them that LOVE GOD. There is the groundwork. It is the same truth that our blessed Lord gave, when He said, Every one that doeth truth cometh to the light.–John iii., 21. Now, there were they that God foreknew. God foreknows every such soul now. When a person is in the love of what is good, when he has been earnestly striving to be right, when he has got the good ground of an honest and good heart, the seed of heaven will come to him some day; he will be brought within the range of heavenly teaching. He whom God foreknows, by whom His Spirit is received, and who looks to Him, will be brought under the sphere and teaching of Divine Truth, either by a book, or a minister, or a friend, or by some circumstance; and then the love that is in his heart will just serve like a heavenly magnet. It will say to him when the truth comes, This is the truth; this is the very lesson of heaven; this is the real teaching. There is a union between love and wisdom, between affection and thought. God foreknew me, and now he has predestinated me. Of those who are thus declared to be FOREKNOWN, that is, who had a sympathy with the DIVINE LOVE before the truth of the Gospel reached them, the Apostle says, in the verse immediately preceding, We know that all things work together for good to them that LOVE GOD: to them who are the called according to His purpose. No others are savingly called. Love is the only ground in which TRUTH can become rooted, can flourish, and bear fruit.
But these LOVING ones must by truth be delivered from errors of doctrine, of temper, and of life, and led to a Christ-like conformity with the Lord. Them He did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. His Divine Humanity was to be their pattern as well as their head; that He might he the first-bell among many brethren. What a sublime and magnificent view is opened to us in these simple words!
It was predestinated (that is defined, determined) that a spiritual universe should be formed from men of love, of which His own Divine Humanity, the Son, should be the Head, the Pattern and Center, the Father in Him, and He in them. From His glorious Manhood, angels and men, conformed to His Spirit, should form a vast and ever-increasing kingdom, in which He should be the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords. This is the fixed Divine order from which the Lord never swerves. Men of loving dispositions form His children, and He leads them into a full spiritual likeness unto Himself in His Divine Humanity; like Him, they become self-denying, pure, intelligent, merciful, just, meek, and good.
As He was High Priest to the Eternal Love, and offered Himself a whole burnt-offering to the Divinity within, and then received all power in heaven and on earth, (Matt. xxviii., 18); so they must become priests to offer living sacrifices to Him, and kings to rule their own spirits in entire obedience to the Lord Jesus, who is Lord of all–Acts x., 36.
These are the called according to His purpose. The Lord foreknew these souls with whom He has communicated; them, then, He calls from ignorance to wisdom, from fear to child-like trust and reverence, from superstitious trifles to living virtue. He calls them to grander aims, to wider sympathies, to better and nobler acts and principles of life; and them He justifies. He makes them just, and declares them just. There is a wide-spread conviction in the present day, and it is the snare of the age, that man cannot be just; that justice is something too pure for mortals; yet almost all our sorrows come from injustice. The voice of the Savior is easy, and His burden is light. Would men venture to be just, each in his sphere and avocation, and be satisfied with the modest awards which justice supplies, how soon both the heart and the face of the world would change. Thus only can any man come into happiness.
God always sees every one and all things, just as they are.–Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? He justifies a man by making him just. He will show a man his weakness, and fortify him by lending him to feel how blessed it is to be just and good.
Every time he prays, and every time he is thinking of Being to heaven, the Spirit of the Lord will whisper, What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk. humbly with thy God. And He will thus make men just. Their lives become daily more useful, pure, and innocent; they do nothing that would harm their neighbor or would sully the glory of their Lord. He imparts justice to them. He makes them angel-like. They become heavenly, and thus they become justified; they have a beauty imparted to their characters, they not only become lovelier themselves, but they surround themselves with things lovely and becoming, so far as their means permit, so that beauty conjoined with mercy make their homes types, though imperfect types of heaven. They become glorified, not with outward glory, but with the glory of being wise, humble, and good. Their glory is to say, I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness. Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; establish thou the work of our hands, yea the work of our hands establish thou it. Let us say this my beloved friends. So shall me go on from being foreknown by love, to be predestinated and called by truth, justified, glorified; until at length we form part of the glorious company of the angels, who are eternally happy because they are eternally good.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Scripture Paradoxes -Their True Explanation (1868)